Freedom in the World 2003 - Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories [Israel]

Polity: Military and PLO-administered
Population: 3,000,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: N/A
Religious Groups: Sunni Muslim (majority), Christian, other
Ethnic Groups: Palestinian Arab

Political Rights Score: 5
Civil Liberties Score: 6
Status: Not Free


Palestinians continued their intifada (uprising) throughout 2002, leading to Israeli incursions into areas previously ceded to Palestinian control. Israel intermittently re-occupied some West Bank towns and cities, and imposed strict curfews and blockades. Israeli forces besieged and destroyed parts of Yasser Arafat's compound in an effort to force the Palestinian leader to clamp down on terrorism. Israel staged several reprisal raids and carried out targeted killings of militants in the aftermath of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. Many Palestinian civilians, including children, were inadvertently killed in these operations. As of December 2002, nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed since the intifada began in September 2000. Israel also destroyed many Palestinian civil and military institutions and homes.

Facing intense pressure to root out corruption and to fight against terror, Arafat reshuffled his cabinet, but conditioned meaningful political reform on an Israeli troop pullback. Palestinian militants attacked Jewish settlers in the West Bank several times. Prominent Palestinian intellectuals signed a public petition calling for an end to suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians. Fissures between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and various radical factions widened during the year, at times culminating in armed confrontations and underscoring Arafat's and the PA's declining credibility. The PA postponed leadership elections indefinitely. International human rights groups accused the Palestinians of war crimes. At the end of the year, the United States put forward a "road map" for peace that calls for Palestinian crackdowns on terrorism and subsequent Israeli troop pullbacks. It envisions a Palestinian state by 2005. At the core of the plan is a call for Arafat's removal from power.

After Palestinian rejection of a UN partition plan in 1947, Israel declared its independence on the portion of land allotted for Jewish settlement. The fledgling state was jointly attacked by neighboring Arab states in Israel's 1948 War of Independence. While Israel maintained its sovereignty, Jordan seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while Egypt took control of Gaza. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel came to occupy the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, which had been used by Syria to shell towns in northern Israel. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981.

In what became known as the intifada, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza began attacking mainly targets of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1987 to protest Israeli rule. A series of secret negotiations between Israel and Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) conducted in Oslo, Norway, produced an agreement in September 1993. The Declaration of Principles provided for Israeli troop withdrawals and gradual Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.

Elections for the first PA Legislative Council and for head of the council's executive authority were held in January 1996 and were considered to be generally free and fair. Independents won 35 of the 88 council seats, while Arafat's Fatah movement won the remainder. Arafat won the chairmanship of the executive authority with 88 percent of the vote.

Most of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho were turned over to the PA in May 1994. Following the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 by a right-wing Jewish extremist opposed to the peace process, Israel, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, began redeploying its forces in the West Bank and Gaza. After a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in early 1996, Peres lost a general election to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who ruled until 1999. Labor Party leader Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in May of that year and set the Oslo peace process on a new course. Under the provisions of Oslo implemented so far, the Palestinians have had full or partial control of 40 percent of the territory of the West Bank, and 98 percent of the territory's Palestinian population. Israel has temporarily reentered and seized some Palestinian lands since the eruption of the second intifada.

At Camp David in July 2000, and at Taba, Egypt, at the end of the year, Prime Minister Barak and U.S. president Bill Clinton engaged the Palestinian leadership in the most far-reaching negotiations ever. For the first time, Israel discussed compromise solutions on Jerusalem, agreeing to some form of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and its Islamic holy sites. Israel also offered more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians. However, the Palestinians effectively rejected the Israeli offers and, following a controversial visit by right-wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, initiated an armed uprising in late September 2000. Snap Israeli elections in February 2001 took place against the backdrop of continuing Palestinian violence. Sharon, promising to enhance Israel's security, trounced Barak at the polls.

In May 2001, a fact-finding commission headed by former U.S. senator George Mitchell issued a report on the crisis. Apportioning blame for the violence to both sides, the Mitchell Report called for a cessation of violence as an unconditional first step, to be followed by a series of confidence-building measures. These included a total freeze of Israeli settlement activity; a full and sincere effort by the PA in clamping down on terror; the use of nonlethal force by the IDF against Palestinian demonstrators; the prevention by the PA of attacks against Israelis from Palestinian areas; the lifting of border closures by Israel; and the resumption of PA cooperation with Israeli security agencies. The plan was never put into effect.

In January 2002, Arafat's commitment to the original terms of Oslo, specifically the renunciation of violence, appeared called into question by the interception of the Karine A, a Palestinian-owned cargo ship. Israeli commandos seized the Gaza-bound freighter in the Red Sea and uncovered 50 tons of Iranian-made weapons, including rockets, mortars, mines, anti-tank missiles, assault rifles, and C4 plastic explosives, the type commonly used by suicide bombers. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon labeled Arafat a "bitter enemy," regarding him as "irrelevant." The United States cited compelling evidence that Arafat knew of the arms shipment, despite his denials. Arafat later fired a top security official connected with the arms transfer.

Violence raged throughout the occupied territories in 2002. In response to successive waves of suicide bombings inside Israel and attacks on Jewish settlers and IDF personnel in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli forces staged several incursions into Palestinian-ruled territory and arrested many suspected militants. After a spate of suicide bombings in Israel in March that killed 80 civilians, the IDF re-occupied seven of eight major West Bank towns, placing them under 24-hour curfew. In June, in the wake of a suicide bombing attack on a Jerusalem bus that killed 19 people, Israel announced it would hold Palestinian land for as long as terrorism continued.

Radical Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot militia of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings and ambush attacks against Israelis.

The conflict in the territories resembled guerilla warfare as Palestinian tactics became more lethal. Successful attacks were carried out against Israeli tanks in the Gaza Strip, suggesting a new sophistication among militants, who had perhaps benefited from Iranian training, according to analysts.

Israel killed several top Palestinian militia figures and radical Islamists suspected of committing or preparing attacks against Israel. Palestinians condemned Israel for the killings – often carried out by helicopter gunships or undercover units – and labeled them "assassinations." Israel also faced international criticism for what it termed "targeted killings." Israel justified the policy on the grounds that its repeated requests to the PA that it detain Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out attacks had gone unheeded.

Israeli reprisal raids and targeted killings of Palestinian militants sometimes resulted in the deaths of numerous Palestinian civilians. Israel denied the deliberate targeting of civilians, asserting that Palestinian gunmen and other militants were deliberately positioning themselves among civilian populations, thus endangering them.

Israel seized thousands of documents the government said implicated Arafat and the PA in sponsoring terror attacks against Israelis. Israeli forces repeatedly blockaded and bombarded Arafat's Ramallah compound in an attempt to force him to crack down on terrorism.

In April, Palestinian gunmen ambushed IDF troops searching for terror suspects in the West Bank town of Jenin, killing 13 soldiers. Ensuing battles over several days left 56 Palestinians dead, most of who were armed. While some innocent civilians died in the fighting, charges of wholesale Israeli massacre and war crimes were discredited by a UN inquiry. Reports conducted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International did criticize the IDF for using Palestinians as human shields during house-to-house searches.

By the summer, with the civilian death toll mounting on both sides, prominent Palestinian intellectuals and political figures signed and published a petition calling for an end to suicide bombings, asserting that they undermined Palestinian aspirations for an independent state. At the same time, U.S. president George W. Bush, after receiving an intelligence report showing Yasser Arafat had authorized a $20,000 payment to a group that had claimed responsibility for the June suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, suggested that the Palestinian leader be removed from power.

In October, Human Rights Watch issued a report in which it labeled suicide bombing both a crime against humanity and a war crime. It accused Arafat and the PA's security and judicial services of failing to take a "high degree" of responsibility for the bombings. It also suggested that by not unequivocally condemning suicide operations, Arafat and the PA were complicit in fostering a general climate of incitement of, and tolerance for, deliberate terrorist violence.

The PA continued to face accusations of autocratic leadership, mismanagement, and political corruption. Despite a temporary surge in popularity during Israel's siege of his compound, Arafat faced significant internal – as well as international – pressure to institute widespread political and economic reforms.

In June, Arafat reshuffled his cabinet, appointing Abdel Razak al-Yahya, a known moderate with experience negotiating with Israel, as interior minister. By September, however, the legislature was in full revolt and demanding democratic change and the appointment of a prime minister to manage the day-to-day affairs of state. To ward off a no-confidence motion, Arafat's cabinet resigned en masse. By October, Arafat appointed a new and slightly smaller cabinet, which was largely composed, however, of members of the former cabinet. Palestinians voiced displeasure with the new cabinet, which was made up mostly of outsiders who had returned from exile with Arafat, rather than those who had grown up in the West Bank or Gaza. A close Arafat confidant, Salaam Fayad, replaced al-Yahya.

Factions of Arafat's Fatah organization continued to undermine the PA as they and other militant groups took the lead – at times against Arafat's orders, without his consultation, or perhaps even with his tacit approval – in perpetuating the intifada.

Governmental corruption and popular disaffection with the peace process have benefited Hamas, which operates an extensive social services network. Vocal opposition to Israel and to the Oslo accords has turned Hamas into a growing political alternative to Arafat's Fatah party.

Hamas held talks throughout the year with Arafat's Fatah party on the possible renunciation of the use of suicide bombings, but no formal conclusions were made. The Hamas charter does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Arafat's refusal or inability to arrest terror suspects underscored his apparent loss of credibility among Israelis. The PA claimed that it was unable to effectively carry out policing and security duties since Israel had destroyed much of its security apparatus. Israel justified its targeting of Palestinian security services on the grounds that they aided and abetted terror.

With the skyrocketing popularity of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Arafat's room for maneuverability appeared hampered throughout the year. A poll conducted at the end of September by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, a Palestinian polling institute, found only 26 percent of West Bank and Gaza residents said they trust Arafat. Approximately 64 percent support suicide bombings against Israelis.

Substantive peace negotiations between the two sides did not take place during the year. In October the United States, in coordination with the EU, Russia, and the United Nations, distributed a draft "road map" plan that envisioned Palestinian statehood by 2005. The multi-stage, performance-based plan was premised on demonstrated Palestinian commitments to ending violence, followed by Israeli troop pullbacks and the easing of curfews and travel restrictions on Palestinians. It also called for a freeze of Israeli settlement activity. Progress toward these goals was conditioned on the PA's first implementing sweeping political and economic reforms and establishing an "empowered prime minister" who would ostensibly replace Arafat as lead Palestinian negotiator.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem chose their first popularly elected government in 1996. Despite some irregularities, international observers regarded the vote as reasonably reflective of the will of the voters. The Legislative Council has complained of being marginalized by the executive authority; though it has debated hundreds of draft laws, few have been signed into law. The Palestinian government indefinitely postponed local elections in May 1998, citing the threat of Israeli interference. After Yasser Arafat, chairman of the executive authority, declared elections would be held early in 2003, on the condition of an Israeli troop pullback, he postponed them indefinitely in December.

Allegations of corruption and abuse of power have become increasingly problematic for Arafat's government. His autocratic tendencies have put him at odds with the Legislative Council. He frequently scuttles the legislative process or refuses to sign council rules into law.

According to Palestinian officials, in May, Arafat signed a basic law detailing and guaranteeing rights and freedoms for Palestinians. The law, akin to a constitution, was passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1997 but was never endorsed by Arafat. Arafat's signing of the law was not officially announced. If the law were actually to be enacted, it would presumably curtail Arafat's own authority.

Palestinian judges lack proper training and experience. Israeli demands for a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism have given rise to state security courts, which lack almost all due process rights. Suspected Islamic militants are rounded up en masse and often held without charge or trial. There are reportedly hundreds of administrative detainees currently in Palestinian jails and detention centers. The same courts are also used to try those suspected of collaborating with Israel or of drug trafficking. Defendants are not granted the right to appeal sentences and are often summarily tried and sentenced to death. Executions often take place immediately after sentencing and are carried out by firing squad.

Armed militias sometimes summarily execute Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. These murders generally go unpunished. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, alleged collaborators are routinely tortured in Palestinian jails and are denied the right to defend themselves in court. This practice is not prohibited under Palestinian law.

The limits of Palestinian justice and the further breakdown of the rule of law were exposed in February, when a mob stormed a West Bank courtroom and murdered three men convicted of killing a Palestinian policeman. Several prisoners were also released from West Bank jails after demonstrators demanded their freedom. In June, Palestinian police in Gaza fired on demonstrators while executing a house arrest warrant on Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin. In July, 21 people were wounded during clashes between police and Hamas supporters in Gaza. The demonstrators were demanding the execution of a detained alleged collaborator with Israel. Two months later, 20 Hamas members killed a PA colonel in Gaza. The colonel had earlier killed two Hamas members during demonstrations in support of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Hamas and Palestinian security forces engaged in sporadic firefights during the year.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations criticized Palestinian security forces for not reining in militias whose armed attacks against Israelis further endangered Palestinian civilians.

Violence between Palestinians and settlers is not uncommon. Several Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were ambushed and killed by Palestinian gunmen; some were targeted while traveling in cars or buses; others were attacked while in their homes or schools. These attacks generally go unpunished by the PA. In October, following a spate of attacks against settlers, Palestinians fled the village of Khirbat Yanun because of settler intimidation and violence. The villagers eventually returned with promises of IDF protection. Attacks by settlers against Palestinians also took place during the year. Jewish residents of Hebron carried out attacks against Palestinian residents following funerals for slain settlers.

Journalists covering the intifada faced harassment by the PA. PA officials reportedly threatened Palestinian journalists who filed stories deemed unfavorable. PA-affiliated militias also warned Israeli journalists to stay out of Palestinian areas. International press freedom groups called on the PA to cease harassment of journalists.

Under a 1995 Palestinian press law, journalists may be fined and jailed and newspapers closed for publishing "secret information" on Palestinian security forces or news that might harm national unity or incite violence. However, another press law, also signed in 1995, stipulates that Palestinian intelligence services do not reserve the right to interrogate, detain, or arrest journalists on the basis of their work. Still, several small media outlets are pressured by authorities to provide favorable coverage of Arafat and the PA. Arbitrary arrests, threats, and the physical abuse of journalists critical of the PA are routine. Official Palestinian radio and television are governmental mouthpieces.

In August, the Palestinian Journalists' Union and the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate imposed a ban on the use of photographs depicting armed children and masked men. The ban on the images, which were said to serve Israeli interests, was extended to foreign photographers.

Arafat has yet to ratify a 1996 law passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council that guarantees freedom of expression.

The PA requires permits for rallies and demonstrations and prohibits violence and racist sloganeering. Nonetheless, anti-Semitic preaching is a common – and unpunished – feature of daily mosque prayer services and radio and television broadcasts. In the PA, Palestinian and pro-Islamic organizations that oppose Arafat's government have been harassed and detained.

On several occasions during the year, Palestinian demonstrators clashed violently with Palestinian security forces over the PA's detention of militants or people suspected of collaborating with Israel. Some demonstrators died in the clashes. Demonstrators also feared that prisoners would be targeted by Israeli air strikes.

The intifada has exacted a serious toll on the Palestinian economy. According to the International Labor Organization, unemployment in Palestinian areas was recorded at 43 percent late in the year. Economic output plunged as tens of thousands of Palestinians who normally work in Israel were denied entry into the country for most of the year.

In August, a study released by the U.S. Agency for International Development revealed that 53 percent of women and children in the West Bank and Gaza are malnourished and suffer from anemia.

Palestinian women are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment. Under Sharia (Islamic law), women are disadvantaged in marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Rape, domestic abuse, and "honor killings," in which unmarried women thought not to be virgins are murdered by male relatives, continue. Since societal pressures prevent reporting of such incidents, the exact frequency of attacks is unknown.

Labor affairs in the West Bank and Gaza are governed by a combination of Jordanian law and PA decisions pending the enactment of new Palestinian labor codes. Workers may establish and join unions without governmental authorization. Palestinian workers seeking to strike must submit to arbitration by the PA Ministry of Labor. There are no laws in the PA-ruled areas to protect the rights of striking workers. Palestinian workers in Jerusalem are subject to Israeli labor law.

The PA generally respects freedom of religion, though no law exists protecting religious expression. Some Palestinian Christians have experienced intimidation and harassment by radical Islamic groups and PA officials. Palestinians have deliberately damaged Jewish shrines and other holy places in the West Bank.

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